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The rosella fruit makes great jam.

Growing rosellas

Rosella plants are a staple in my tropical garden and the resulting jam a favourite on fresh scones, writes Dean White.

Not to be confused with the colourful bird that’s always a joy to see in our gardens, the humble rosella plant (Hibiscus sabdariffa), which is grown for its colourful flowers and fruit, loves the heat and sun of the tropics. A small shrub, it originates from West Africa and Sri Lanka, but is now a favoured ingredient for jams and jellies here in Australia.

Rosellas love the heat and need at least five frost-free months to produce a crop. In the tropics and subtropics, sow from September to December. In temperate areas, October to November is the ideal time to get them started. In some areas, rosella seedlings can be purchased from garden centres. Seeds are much easier to source online and are generally available in spring.

Rosellas will grow in a wide range of soil types, provided they are nutrient rich and free draining. Choose a full sun position. Blending compost or aged manure into the soil at the time of planting will give your plants the best start.

Sow seeds to a depth of 10mm and 50cm apart in a layer of fine soil and keep moist until germination. Rosellas are grown as an annual, and need regular watering for healthy growth, flowering and fruit development.

Five or six plants are adequate to provide a good quantity of fruit (with its outer petals called the calyx) required for jam making.

Rosellas grow into a bush up to 2m tall, and will keep fruiting up to 9 months if the conditions are warm, before they wither and die. Leaving some fruit on the bush will ensure you have seeds for next year. Seed is ready when the pods turn brown and open slightly. The beautiful crimson coloured fruit ripen from the base up and are harvested when approximately 3cm wide and plump. Fruit can be snipped off with a pair of secateurs and collected in a container. 

Grandma’s rosella jam

An iconic Queensland jam, with a few variations, this one is delectable with freshly baked scones and whipped cream.

Prep time: 30 mins (approx)

Cook time: 70 mins (approx)

Ingredients

Rosellas (amount will depend on your harvest but I usually get about half a bucket)

White sugar

Water

 

1. Remove the outer red calyces from the green seed pods and place pods into a saucepan.

2. Weigh the red calyces and place into another saucepan, adding the same weight of sugar.

3. Add just enough water to the seed pods to cover them, and boil for 30 mins, or until soft. Strain and pour this liquid into the saucepan with the red calyxes and sugar.

4. Cook slowly for 20 mins.

5. Increase the heat and boil for another 20 mins while stirring constantly.

6. Keep adding more sugar and tasting frequently to get the desired sweetness.

7. Test the jams thickness by dripping jam onto a refrigerated saucer. When happy, pour jam into sterilised jars, and seal.